This Fashion Revolution Week, we are shining a light on who makes our clothes, and why we partner with our manufacturers. Baiia swimsuits are made with love in a factory located in Guangzhou, China.
We acknowledge that there is currently political tension between China and the rest of the world, particular Australia. There are a few reasons for this, such as the global enquiries as to the origin of the COVID-19 virus and how long knowledge of the virus was kept from the public, the Chinese government's treatment of minorities such as the abuse of Uyghur muslims workers at the Xinjiang cotton farms, and the takeover of independent nations Hong Kong and Tibet. As a result of these accusations and humanitarian infractions coming to light, the Chinese government (also known as the CCP - Chinese Communist Party) have imposed higher export taxes on many Australian trade such as barley, wine and coal. To put it in perspective, Chinese exports make up approximately 30% of Australia’s total global exports so this has meant the Australian economy and several industries have taken a substantial financial hit.
We don’t pretend to be unaware of these issues, nor do we necessarily stand by them or indeed the CCP. However, as our clothing is still made in China and many consumers are choosing to boycott China-made, we knew it was our duty as a brand to be transparent about why we are still manufacturing in China, because we knew a simple blog on where we’re made wouldn’t cut it this year. Consumers have a right to demand transparency and we are committed to providing it wherever we can.
Down to the facts.
We have been partnered with our manufacturer since 2016 and are one of their biggest clients to date. Our manufacturer has lost an estimated 20% of their total clients in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all of these clients refusing to pay for their orders, even when some were fully completed and ready to ship. Aside from the fundamental injustice of this, imagine the textile waste that has now been created as a result of the pandemic, poor planning, and emphasis by many businesses on profit over people. This hasn’t been uncommon in the last few months; Kmart and Mosaic brands were among some of the largest Australian companies guilty of this in May 2020.
We are always trying to do business in the best, most ethical way we can. We acknowledge the power and influence China as a nation has on global manufacturing and trade. At the same time, we are also thinking about every individual involved in our business and what moving our manufacturing would look like to them. Given they have already lost 20% of their client base in just the last 12 months alone, losing another would certainly mean they take a hit.
During the pandemic and indeed even before, layoffs, hours being cut and entire loss of incomes for families of garment workers have been extremely common. When any production moves, it’s likely that many individuals will lose their jobs due to the change in demand for their services. Many seamstresses in other factories and nations globally can find themselves without work due to client loss, and when many of these workers are already undervalued and underpaid, it's something we are always thinking about.
Our seamstresses are paid approximately 4% above the median wage in Guangzhou, China for garment workers of an equivalent skill level, and approximately 34% above the minimum wage. This equates roughly to a 5 to 15 yuan above average hourly wage depending on the skill level of the worker. Baiia’s lowest paid seamstress is paid approximately 24CNY (Chinese Yuan) hourly with a global industry average of 14CNY hourly.
Each worker is offered the option of free housing for themselves and their family with some food and living expenses, as well as free transportation to work, and a monthly bonus to assist with other living costs.
Now onto the quality of our manufacturing.
Many nations with established manufacturing hubs don’t yet have the necessary equipment or sustainability accreditation we require for our swimsuit manufacturing. Since ours is such a niche product and fabric, one of the only factories that was up to the challenge was located in China. While China is a huge player in global manufacturing, there are reasons for this as well as for their continued dominance in this area.
China’s carbon emissions are quite high, however as a nation they are committed to moving towards a cleaner economy so these emissions are always being analysed. In fact, just a few weeks ago China announced their goal of net-zero emissions by 2060 (the global target is 2050, read more about the Paris Climate Agreement here). In comparison, Australia has currently committed to a 28-30% reduction in emissions by 2030. While Australia’s target is a shorter time frame, it also hasn’t changed much than in previous years; in fact it’s almost the same target given 5 years prior at the last Paris Climate Agreement meeting in 2016. China’s target is 10 years behind the recommended time frame, but experts have advised that this goal is more than achievable and may even be exceeded based on China’s previous trends of emissions targets. Australia, on the other hand, is playing it safe with their emissions targets, at a time that requires radical action and reform.
Another point to consider is that boycotting China-made may not even make much of a financial dent to the Chinese economy. Hans Hendrischke, professor at the University of Sydney Business School, said this about the rivalry:
“It would really only have an impact in a political sense, domestically, in that we would feel we have some agency… Otherwise, it would have no economic impact on China because there is total asymmetry, they being our primary client … and we are one of their global clients, and a small one for that matter, for all the standard goods they export across the world.
“If we bought less Chinese goods it wouldn’t make a difference because of the lack of balance … because we are totally exposed.”
Consumers have every right to use their purchasing power for good, and they should exercise this power wherever possible. However, boycotting isn’t a simple solution to what is a complex problem. Boycotts can and have been effective ways of creating change, but not one size fits all. Voting with your wallet can also mean supporting companies who are doing the right thing in their space, and staying away from those who don’t.
What would it mean to each individual person if Baiia were to move our production elsewhere? This is also a question we are constantly asking ourselves. Furthermore, the people involved at every step of our business are passionate, kind-hearted and hard workers. We can’t do what we do without the product to sell, so in essence these factory workers are an extension of our team and we wish to treat them as such.
Pictured: Alec, our factory liaison (photos taken in 2021) and our Founder, Amber's trip to Guangzhou in 2018 with staff from our factory. We were due for another visit last year, however the pandemic has meant we can't visit as easily as we would like.
For us at Baiia, the livelihood of those who make our clothes are just as important as the people who wear them. By connecting deeper to those who make our clothes, we hope to simultaneously value the craftsmanship, the history and the hard work that goes into making each swimsuit. When you love something, the closer your attachment and the greater our appreciation of what we wear.
It’s a complex situation that doesn't have an easy answer but we are constantly thinking about it and re-evaluating. We invite any discussion, thoughts and feedback with a promise of a thorough and informative response.